The Darkest Minds…

The Darkest Minds…

The first book in a YA trilogy of the same name, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken was a good read. While I wasn’t as pulled into the plot and the character dynamics as with The Hunger Games, by the end I did close the back cover with a desire to read the next book and a slight sigh of discontentment that my romantic heart was denied fulfillment in the last few pages.

The Darkest Minds follows the story of Ruby, a 16 year old girl who has been in a “rehabilitation camp” since the age of 10. She is one of the unlucky (or lucky depending how you want to look at it) kids who survived a disease that swept the United States killing off almost all the children almost as quickly as the first symptom presented itself. The children who did survive were forever changed and found themselves with unusual powers, and due to the fear that these powers wrought in the government, they were rounded up and sent to various camps. The public was told it was for rehabilitation and so a cure could be found, but the truth was the camps were for experimentation and containment only.

When Ruby is sent to Thurmond, the first camp, with many other children, all are screened for their “power level” and categorized into sub-groups: Greens are the weakest but have superhuman brains with photographic memory; Blues are telekinetic; Yellows can manipulate electricity and cause any electronic item to turn off, on or explode; Oranges have telepathy and can read minds, place or remove memories along with manipulating thoughts; Reds are thought to have powers of psychokinesis but this first novel only hints at that.

Ruby is an Orange (without knowing what that really means in the beginning) but as she is being sorted, she instinctively tries to protect herself and convinces her tester that she is a Green. She spends her 6 years at Thurmond hiding her true abilities and living behind a mental wall of fear. Inevitably, it’s discovered that she has powers far beyond any “Green” and a Doctor acting as an undercover agent for a group called the Children’s League smuggles her and another Orange out of the camp.Wary at what the future holds, Ruby hopes that she has finally found someone and somewhere to belong.

Sadly for Ruby, the Children’s Leagues main motivation in breaking her out was to exploit her abilities in their own political war. When Ruby realizes that the partner of the Doctor who got her out of Thurmond executed the children he was supposed to save from another camp, Ruby makes a run for it before he can do the same to her. As she is fleeing, she encounters another group of children who escaped their camp- Liam (the leader), “Chubs” (the brilliant mind) and Zu (little girl with crazy Yellow powers who wont talk), and joins up with them to escape the League agents.

Liam, Chubs and Zu are searching for a place called East River where rumors say there is a safe haven camp for kids with power and a leader named the Slip Kid who is able to connect with your relatives anywhere in the area or get you to a safe home elsewhere. As Ruby works to both hide her secret of being an Orange and yet stay with the group, Liam begins to fall in love with her… when they do finally discover the secret location of East River, not everything there turns out to be the perfect Utopian they were hoping for…

To reiterate the sentiment that I opened this post with, overall I enjoyed this novel and plan to eventually read the remaining books (oh, where will I find the time?!). However, I think what kept this book from being categorized as great for me is that there was too much repetition with the plot. OK, I get that Ruby and the others are traveling to some unknown, remote location but there seems to be redundant situations that didn’t necessarily advance the character’s development or interactions with each other. I mean, how many times do I have to read that they dodge almost being captured by various agents of the League, bounty hunters or other children gangs? Maybe the author was trying to hit a certain number of pages or perhaps she felt that each situation of danger really did help Ruby bond with the others in the little tribe but I would have been satisfied if the book had been shorter and the story-line condensed. (Side rant- Stephanie Meyers’ The Host has to be the worst offender ever in the category of endless pages of wandering that are both unnecessary and noncontributing to forward movement in the plot. Seriously….like at least 100+ pages that could have been cut from that book and you’d never miss them. Ok, end side rant.)

My other beef is the ending and I say that only because I didn’t get the hopeless romantic ending I wanted. Wasn’t really expecting it to happen with this being book one of a trilogy but if things don’t play out with love happiness for Ruby  in the end, I may be scarred for life. Or just reluctant to read other works by this author. Reading is my happy place so don’t take away my perfect love endings darn it!

 


 

The trilogy continues with Never Fade and ends with In the Afterlight. Find more info on the author’s website here. There are rumors that The Darkest Minds is slated for movie production but per the author’s website, while there is a screen writer working on the novel adaptation, there are no actors or directors currently attached to this project. Stay tuned!

Photo is courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

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Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Oh my!

Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Oh my!

Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy is a pleasant, delightful piece of historical murder mystery fiction. This is the second book by the author and having not read the first one, my introduction to both the author and the main character Mary Handley. Now, I don’t tend to read a lot of murder mystery and if I do, I would argue that they fall more on the thriller/suspense side but I love well written, accurate historical fiction. Heck, half of the random facts filed away somewhere in the vast reaches of my brain are from historical fiction novels.

The novel is set in Brooklyn during the year 1890. Mary Handley, the daughter of a butcher, is an young, intelligent, (unofficial) consulting detective attempting to establish herself as a professional. In the first novel, she successfully helps the Brooklyn police close a tricky murder case and now finds herself at loose ends waiting for another potential case. As luck would have it, she is hired by a woman to investigate the 20 year old death of the woman’s uncle where there is suspicion of foul play.

With this review, I don’t want to dive too deep into the plot and provide spoilers but I will say that the twist and turns kept on coming. Mary’s investigation into the uncle’s death uncovers a buried coffin full of stone and that the uncle apparently died not once but twice eight years apart and in two different locations! Other murders, seemingly unconnected to Mary’s investigation, being to occur and the deeper Mary dives into this case, the more she realizes that she is playing fire with Brooklyn’s snobbish elite and the underworld social climbers that pull the strings. As if Mary doesn’t have enough on her plate with missing bodies and cold leads, her brother is arrested for the murder of his fiance (a close friend of Mary’s), and she falls in love with a Vanderbilt and becomes engaged.

I admit to skepticism as to the validity of some facts in this novel. Being somewhat scarred by Hollywood’s inability to keep historically accurate facts in the forefront of their movies, I felt it prudent to keep a running list of things to cross check as this novel seemed chock full of potentially disappointing untrue facts. So with that, I set out to confirm if the below list could be realistic for a person in Brooklyn in the 1890’s to know about or to be a current practice for the era:

  • Embalming still a current practice?
  • Jujitsu?
  • French form of kickboxing called Savate
  • Would a women have a boyfriend

Good ol’ Google did surprisingly confirm these facts: Embalming became popular in the U.S. during the civil war; in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s, the U.S. became fascinated with Japanese culture especially martial arts and so it’s very likely that Mary could have been introduced and trained in jujitsu and there were even debates in England as to whether a boxer could be defeated by a trained martial artist (see website here); while I couldn’t find any proof that Savate was present in the U.S. in the 1890’s (albeit after only a brief internet search), given the popularity it had in Europe during that same time period, I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of historical accuracy that Mary wouldn’t have known and/or been trained in Savate, especially as it was lauded as a self-defense art; and lastly, yes, it is conceivable that a women in or around the 1890’s could indeed have had a boyfriend (linguist history lesson here) and referred to said boyfriend in social conversation.

I can’t remember the last time a novel challenged me to question history but I am pleased that the author obviously did his homework and must have complied some exhaustive research in the writing of Mary’s second adventure. This author’s desire for accuracy is confirmed by an interview he had with a fellow wordpress blogger and also that he put a lot of effort into ensuring the characters spoke accurately for that time frame. I am  still unconvinced on this point but am going to trust in the author on this one. Head over to Book Club Mom to read the interview.

All in all, I enjoyed Brooklyn on Fire. Mary Handley is not a perfect person (a bit prejudice against the rich and privilege) but she is a witty, strong woman living by her own terms and is entirely identifiable with in this current day and age and I look forward to reading more of her adventures. I will give one spoiler alert though- my hopelessly romantic soul is sad her engagement ended. Love is a fickle thing.


 

Brooklyn on Fire is available Jan. 19th, 2016. Find more information here and check out Lawrence H. Levy’s website here.

**I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. My first pre-release book ever! Click the link above for more information.

 

Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

I had high hopes for this book and yet was oddly not compelled or captivated by the story line. I struggled to finish it and had I not added it as a selection for my 2016 challenge, I don’t know that I would have finished. Is something wrong with me?

Some of my favorite books are by Dan Simmons: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Terror: A Novel, Drood. Each of these was a lyrical, gripping novel, either with a historical setting or pure fantasy/sci-fi, but all demonstrating Simmons ability to draw his reader in with beautiful words, unpredictable plots, fascinating characters and deftly capturing the vast reaches of human nature.

So why did Phases of Gravity feel flat to me? I grabbed this off the library shelf based on my love of the author’s other titles and because of the (misleading?) inside jacket summary: “Phases of Gravity is a novel about the power of dreams and the possibility of second chances, about journeys remembered and newly undertaken.” OK, I get all of that and could write a literary paper pulling out segments that fit each of those pieces but overall…I’m disappointed. Unmoved. Puzzled.

Comprised of constant, sometimes disjointed, flashbacks, this novel centers around Richard Baedecker, former NASA astronaut who walked on the moon. 16 years after his moon walk, Richard (or Dick as he is commonly referred to in the book) is struggling to understand his place in the universe. His marriage has ended, and he has no real relationship with his son, Scott. In an attempt to reconnect, he travels to India where Scott has joined up with guru on his farm for meditation, cleansing and answer searching. While in India, he meets Maggie Brown, also in the area to see Scott. Richard and Maggie end up spending time together touring the area and Richard is intrigued by this young, self-possessed woman talking about “places of power” and the effect they can have on a person. Eventually, later in the book, they start a relationship that is short-lived and predictable from page one of her entry.

Along the chapters, Richard encounters the other members of the space mission team: one found God and started a successful church; another, Dave, became a politician, writer, soon-to-be father himself and is battling cancer When Dave dies in a plane crash where he was pilot and only crew member, his widow ask Richard to investigate how this happened and why Dave was heading for his apparent destination at the time of the crash with the unspoken question being did he commit suicide. What ensues next is soul searching by Richard of when does one full experience a moment of happiness in this mortal life?

The book ends with Richard finding his way and peace with himself. He repairs his relationship with his son after a daring (and random) visit by helicopter to the new farm in Oregon his master from India relocated to, decides to honor Dave’s pre-death request to help him finish the book he had started and seeks out Maggie, whom he loves, to try and rekindle their relationship. The books ends with Richard having a transcendental moment up on a mountain in a “place of power” with Maggie calling his name.

Perhaps what really caused the disconnect with me for this book is that it felt cliche; a recycled male mid-life crisis plot so-to-speak. Older man searching for himself by journey to a foreign country and then across the US, quits his job, hooks up with a hot, young but precocious and deep woman, suffers the loss of a close friend triggering subsequent questions of one’s own mortality, etc, etc. I can understand how having once walked on the moon, the pull of Earth’s gravity would pale in comparison to the experience but overall I felt this novel was both trying to hard to instill deeper messaging into it’s pages and yet was overall unimaginative in the effort.

While reviews of this books span the board, it is with a disappointed frowny face and hope for the next Dan Simmons book I read, that I return Phases of Gravity to the library.

 

 

 

2016 Book Challenge

OK, maybe this is  bit of bandwagon joining and post- New Years resolution setting but after talking with a friend about book challenges and her desire to try and organize/track the massive list of books she wants to read, I realized that I have never participated in a book challenge.  Well, not since I was a wee one participating in the county library summer reading challenges, which I totally rocked for the record! “How is that possible?” inquiring minds probably aren’t asking but oddly enough, it hasn’t crossed my mind previously to attempt a guided reading journey, so why not this year? Life is already predicted to be crazy moving forward (grad school?) and I am trying to challenge myself to expand my literary horizons. The book club I formed with two friends last year has done wonder in this area (still recovering  from Carsick by John Waters although he was incredibly entertaining at the Christmas concert we saw about a month ago) and I look forward to the many reading adventures yet to come but along the way, why not throw some additional challenges into the mix and also help prevent this blog consisting of many novels of similar genre and scope?

A quick search on my beloved Pinterest resulted in a few different challenge “lists” floating around the interweb. While I didn’t find one that perfectly fit what I was looking for (which if I thought more about it, finding a list that perfectly suited my desires and literary likes would be defeating the purpose), I did come across the below list from PopSugar which looks like it has been recycled for a few years but hey! still relevant for this year.

Now, it looks like some people assign crazy rules to their challenges: read a book every week for the entire year until finished or don’t pick books that you have already read and re-read them, only physical books, no audio or kindle versions etc. I am going to take a much looser interpretation of this list and say that my goal is just to read a book in every category, in whatever order/format that may take before the end of the year and (hopefully) blog about a fair number of them for your entertainment. Head over to the 2016 book challenge page to see what I will be reading for each category (listed below) and also keep an eye on the 2016 Book Count page as I can only imagine that I will be reading other novels that don’t fall into one of the 40 below categories.

If you are interested in joining this challenge, please comment often and let me know what you are reading for each section and how you are progressing overall. The more, the merrier in the book world!

~Erica

2016 Reading Challenge as posted on PopSugar.com

  • A book based on a fairy tale
  • A National Book Award winner
  • A YA bestseller
  • A book you haven’t read since high school
  • A book set in your home state
  • A book translated to English
  • A romance set in the future
  • A book set in Europe
  • A book that’s under 150 pages
  • A New York Times bestseller
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year
  • A book recommended by someone you just met
  • A self-improvement book
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book written by a celebrity
  • A political memoir
  • A book at least 100 years older than you
  • A book that’s more than 600 pages
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club
  • A science-fiction novel
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A graphic novel
  • A book that is published in 2016
  • A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
  • A book that takes place during Summer (why summer?)
  • A book and it’s prequel
  • A murder mystery
  • A book written by a comedian
  • A dystopian novel
  • A book with a blue cover (why blue?)
  • A book of poetry
  • The first book you see in a bookstore
  • A classic from the 20th century
  • A book from the library
  • An autobiography
  • A book about a road trip
  • A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
  • A satirical book
  • A book that takes place on an island
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy